East of Avignon, the Luberon region in Provence offers a quintessentially French experience: touring sleepy villages perched atop rugged hills overlooking vineyards and fields of lavender. The experience has become
an industry, thanks to Peter Mayle’s books about Provence, set in the author’s picturesque and wildly popular town of Ménerbes, with its narrow streets and dramatic views. Despite the tourist crush, Ménerbes remains one of the country’s prettiest hilltop villages and a perfect base for exploring others.
Among the vineyards just outside Ménerbes is a near-perfect Provençal lodging: the relaxed and refined Bastide de Marie, an 18th-century farmhouse with country-casual décor and cuisine. Nearby Oppède-le-Vieux is a “ghost village,” with ruins of a medieval fortress, workshops, and houses (dampness and darkness led residents to relocate to the valley in the 19th century).
The beautiful town of Gordes, its gray-and-white stone houses rising around a hill, is topped by a stunning Renaissance castle. In the Luberon Valley below, surrounded by rows of lavender, monks still live in the dra-matic 12th-century Abbaye de Sénanque. The ancient, deserted Village de Bories is named after the 20 or so mysterious beehive huts of piled stones, lived in or used as shepherd’s housing from the Bronze Age until the 18th century. For 21st-century luxury, head to the Hôtel Les Bories & Spa, just outside the cen-ter of Gordes, for an overnight stay or a mas-sage using local herbs. Or sample those herbs in the regional dishes served in the garden of the rustic Le Clos de Gustave.
Bonnieux is one of Provence’s most impressive hilltop towns, with views of three neighboring villages. Artists have long been drawn to the pretty “red village” of Roussillon, known for its blazing red cliffs and buildings of red stone mined from nearby quarries. For one of the best markets in the Luberon, head to Apt on a Saturday morning and stock up on Provençal ceramics, lavender, olives, and wine.